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Most of the questions directed to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue by reporters in a Jan. 29 media conference call had to do with trade issues between the United States and European Union, including so-called sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions imposed by Europe on agricultural products.

“On SPS, we believe we are close to equalizing trade balances,” said Perdue, giving apple and pear exports to Poland as an example. He called SPS issues a “formidable barrier” to agricultural trade. 

Perdue also made clear his belief that Europeans should get rid of geographical indications for ag products, a practice that some U.S. states also engage in, notably Georgia with its Vidalia onions. “France is Europe’s largest exporter of feta cheese to the U.S. but can’t export it within the EU,” said Perdue. “We would like to see GI [geographical indication] items excluded from trade agreements.”

Perdue said that with twice the number of consumers as the U.S. but with only two-thirds of the arable land area, the agricultural trade imbalance between the two should be less than the current $10 to $12 billion.

Perdue was taking time out from a visit to farms and agricultural facilities in Belgium, Netherlands and Italy—including Wageningen University & Research. The Dutch global agricultural research center has helped make Netherlands the world’s Number Two food exporter, after the U.S., despite being a tiny fraction of its size. 

In Belgium, Perdue toured a livestock farm and participated in a farm roundtable with U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz, Belgian Minister of Agriculture Denis Ducarme, Wallonia Region Minister of Agriculture Willy Borsus and farmers from the EU.

“I think there’s a lot we can learn from the Europeans with regard to sustainable farm practices and lowering the carbon footprint of agriculture,” Perdue concluded. 

David Murray can be reached at journal@hpj.com.

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